February 16th, 2020

By Xiaole Wang

In one of my undergraduate biochemistry labs, I was introduced to sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE). This is a process by which proteins are separated based on size from a protein sample with various kinds of protein. Running these experiments sparked my interest in biology research. After this experience, I joined a lab where I studied a food related polypeptide derived from naked oats. I was surprised to find that this kind of polypeptide is able to prevent blood sugar spikes after meals. Because I desired to understand proteins with greater nuance, I followed up my undergraduate study by enrolling in the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, majoring in biotechnology. In addition to my studies in the Engineering department, Dr. Montclare has given me the opportunity to volunteer in her lab where I have broadened my experience in protein related research, especially in protein engineering.



Line pressed with loading buffer of samples during SDS-PAGE


I am amazed that proteins, composed of only 20 different building blocks, bear function in almost all of life’s activities. They play an essential role in daily exercise, cellular growth, metabolism, immunity, gene inheritance, and evolution of species. From microscopic creatures to dinosaurs with legs the size of the Parthenon’s columns, life cannot exist without proteins. However, there are many proteins that remain unknown in their function. Scientists continue to make steps in uncovering the mystery of nature by identifying new proteins. With the advances in gene manipulation, it is now possible to produce artificial “engineered” proteins. These engineered proteins can be developed to address issues in human health care. For instance, the creation of Cetuximab, a drug used for cancer treatment, is achieved through protein engineering. Also, protein engineering made it possible to artificially synthesize insulin (Goeddel et al., 1979).


E.coli under microscope
E. coli (one kind of gut bacteria) under microscope


One of the top 10 largest dinosaurs

Currently, I am working on a research project with protein based hydrogels, a kind of biomaterial that absorbs water and binds drug molecules. Hydrogels are thus capable of retaining moisture or delivering drugs for wound healing. By means of protein engineering, I am able to let E. coli (a very common bacteria existing in our gut) produce protein needed for hydrogel. Then, I let the protein chemically cross-link with each other to form cross-linked molecules that are able to shape hydrogel. With necessary handling of the gel, its ability of drug delivery is then tested on a mouse with wound. It turns out that the hydrogel works well!

A master’s level is not enough for providing me with necessary knowledge and skills to go deeply into this field. I am committed to pursuing a PhD to continue my interest in protein engineering.



Goeddel, D. V., Kleid, D. G., Bolivar, F., Heyneker, H. L., Yansura, D. G., Crea, R., … Riggs, A. D. (1979). Expression in Escherichia coli of chemically synthesized genes for human insulin. Biochemistry, 76, 106-110


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